In The Dock: Misogynistic hip-hop
This week's subject: Misogynistic hip-hop
The case for the prosecution (Caskared)
To start of with, I would like to point out that I don’t like misogyny in any genre (gasp!)... anti-women electropop or plainsong are just as much in my no-likee list as hip-hop, it’s just that hip-hop seems to be the most overtly misogynist.
Also, early on, I would like to point out that by singling out misogynistic hip-hop is not to by default say that anti-men hip-hop is good at all either, but as is not as prevalent as the anti-women stuff I’ll leave that topic for another time and place.
So, to the case in hand. It’s not the actual music of hip-hop (although some ain’t to my taste); it’s the lyrics, videos and associated culture that has rippled out into wider society due to its popularity that makes calling boys and girls pimps and hos OK that bugs me. There are a whole tangle of things; I’ll pull at a few threads here that apply to recent hip-hop.
Hip-hop began in the tough, rough inner cities of the USA, and although now it is pretty global, lots of the most prominent stuff still comes from those places. The poverty cycle is rife, people have to survive and hip-hop is one way out. Inevitably roots are recounted in lyrics and imagery, no bad thing. A depressingly large number of women (and minority of men) are driven to prostitution and in some hip-hop this role of women is glamorised. Take the world of 50 Cent: women in his lyrics and videos are only there to please men, they’re subordinate to his control. Certainly his videos aren’t made for women... In 'PIMP' the ladeez strip off completely while Fiddy and Snoop letch around them. In 50’s lyrics in 'Candy Shop' the hos (or ho ho ho’s, it is Christmas! Sorry) brag about how great they are at their jobs, and how much money they are going to make from him. Where 50 plays the pimp, he mocks how he’s exploiting his lady workers, oh, and calls them bitches (he pops in a little homophobia too 'In Da Club'). Sure, there are some women who genuinely choose the profession, but the message of a glamorous sex industry is sent out to such a mass audience. What is a product of an unfortunate part of society becomes a catalyst.
In Nelly’s, Snoop’s, Lil Wayne’s videos, the male gaze is catered for in the most basic women-in-bikini way. Sometimes it’s parody a la 'Gravel Pit' by Wu Tang Clan. Fantastic song, but the well-covered men being the bosses of the pit while the women are tied up, the lovely Paulissa Morgan sings strongly as she writhes. It has an audacity and they do make light of it being Neanderthal... like lads’ mags ironic porn it’s funny, but not for long. In Chamilionaire’s world he prefers women from behind, and he can’t "help but to help myself". There are plenty of lyrics about what the young fellas would like to do to the ladies, and it’s not pretty, sometimes violent a la Ja Rule and Eminem. Not to forget the raps about women who should do anything to keep their man: the ride-or-die chick. Nice.
Women are in the vast majority not MCs (although this is changing!), they’re supporting voices, once again just playing out the will of the male artiste/producer. No wonder there’s so much male-oriented imagery. Thing is, it’s largely not even real beauty – the airbrushing, the plastic enhancements... it’s idealised in a way that says women should aspire to be like this, to please the men.
The medium can’t help but be reductive, and there is no moral obligation or accountability to society, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. There is an argument that nekked ladies is a celebration of the female form, that not liking it is fusty and the women really want to be nakedy. But is it their choice, and do they also want to be reduced to being at disposable service to the men-folk? Of course some yes, and I’m teetering on the brink of so many huge discussions here... but my basic point for this little rant is that misogynistic hip-hop gives an acceptable face and makes popular the idea that women are only here to look good, and to be subordinate to men, supporting an environment that allows sexism to continue. Calling women a ho, bitch, yeah, funny, only not really.
The case for the defence (Jonathan S)
I’m gonna have to come at this from a tricksy angle, as defending misogynism in any shape or form is not something I wanna do, but I’ll take this, if I may, as an opportunity to argue that anyone who decides to ignore or deride rap tunes which exhibit sexist lyrics may be making a creditable moral stand, but is also volunteering to miss some of the best music and lyrics ever, for there is as much to admire as deride in a genre which continues to dazzle linguistically and, frankly, beats indie-rock’s tepid songsmiths into a cocked hat. Or should that be a cocked GAT?
I remember the first rap record I fell for: walking around all summer with Snoop’s ‘Doggystyle’ on constant repeat, wondering whether I could justify loving music which was so gloriously technicolour and funky and simultaneously so lyrically VILE. And there’s plenty to baulk at on that record, and others of its ilk, but not so much that I want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Although ‘Aint No Fun’ features some of the worst lines in rap (Korupt’s verse in particular, where "cause she ain't nuthin but a bitch to me" is pretty much the most acceptable line) it also features Nate Dogg’s disarming confession:
"...cause I have never met a girl
That I loved in the whole wide world"
Ben Folds does a pretty good rendition, actually, of Dre’s ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’ where he drops the accompaniment out altogether to isolate Snoop’s one moment of vulnerability:
"I kick in the do', I look on the flo'
It's my little cousin Daz and he's fuckin' my ho, yo
I uncocked my shit...
But I’m still loc’ed.
Man. Fuck that shit."
As my musical palette expanded, I got used to this split; I would be appalled by the misogyny of a lot of rap and then amazed and intrigued by the complexity of the rhymes spun by people like Biggie and Nas. Of course, with the likes of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def and Roots Manuva it’s possible to listen to conscious, intelligent rap that DOESN'T denigrate women, but ignoring misogynist hip-hop altogether means missing out on extraordinary treasures.
The genre’s right-out-in-front wordsmith, Nas, straddles this divide. Sure, ‘Rewind’ includes pretty unpleasant lines about women. But it also features the rapper spinning together a story with remarkable skill, describing his day backwards:
"Sitting in back of this chair, we hitting the roach
The smoke goes back in the blunt, the blunt gets bigger in growth
Jungle unrolls it, put his weed back in the jar
The blunt turns back into a cigar"
Ice Cube’s rhymes, meanwhile, may concentrate on playin’ ball and fuckin’ hos, but just when you’ve got ‘It Was A Good Day’ down as a hymn to brainless hedonism, Cube raps:
"Plus nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A.
Shit. Today was a good day."
Elsewhere, so much stereotypically misogynistic hip-hop just contains stunning observations, whether you agree with them or not; try AZ’s verse on Nas’s ‘Life’s A Bitch’, beginning with the following:
"Visualizin' the realism of life and actuality
Fuck who's the baddest - a person's status depends on salary."
John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, meanwhile, recently observed, "There's not a rock writer as good as Ghostface. He's just shocking":
"We left the jewelry store, feelin' like we left the morgue
We was frozen, and I brought an iced-out Trojan
That's for pussies whose golden, who got Toney wide open
I put my ring up to my man's waves and seen an ocean
Move like a wolf, kid, in sheep's clothing
Snatch the money bag off the milk truck and kept boating
I be potent like Ibuprofen, I be coastin'"
Hip-hop can be unpleasant in a variety of ways – chiefly in its rampant misogyny. On the other hand, it’s often wildly creative, articulate and honest; it has its roots in celebration and liberation and is often created in an environment of poverty and exploitation. Deriding it as "misogynist hip-hop" means having to ignore a wonderful tradition of black-hearted story-telling, exhibited to stunning effect in songs like Eminem’s ‘Stan’, Biggie’s ‘Things Done Changed’ ("My mom's got cancer of the breast / Now ask me why I’m motherfuckin' stressed") or Slick Rick’s ‘Lodi-Dodi’. Rap may be better WITHOUT sexism, sure, but that’s not the way it works – hip-hop is dark, unique, shocking, offensive, frustrating, sensational.
It may offend your ears, but it’s unputdownable.
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Thanks to Caskared and Jonathan. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until a week on Friday (5th January) to make up your mind...